Sporting Kansas City II (11-7-5, 41 points) kicks off a two-match road trip with a tough test in Texas against Austin FC II (12-4-7, 46 points) on Friday night at Parmer Field at St. David's Performance Center. First kick is at 8 p.m. CT with the match streaming live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.
One of MLS NEXT Pro's top offenses takes on the league's top defense on Friday when these two sides meet on the pitch. Sporting KC II's 48 goals scored rank second in the Western Conference while ATX II has conceded just 14 goals this season. Austin is also 9-1-1 at home in 2023 making Friday's fight that more challenging for a rather resilient SKC II side.
The two sides met at the beginning of the season on Matchday Two at Rock Chalk Park back in early April. After Pau Vidal netted his first of 10 goals this year, Austin leveled five minutes later to take the match into kicks from the spot. SKC II took the extra point in the shootout, sinking four kicks to the visitor's two.
Head Coach Benny Feilhaber, in his second season at the helm, has his group poised for a playoff run as they sit seven points clear of the line with just five matches to go. A well-balanced group, SKC II's plus 15 goal differential is third best in the West and fourth in MLS NEXT Pro. One of the deepest rosters in the league, 37 different players have contributed minutes for Feilhaber's team.
Nobody has played more this year than right-back Lucas Rosa. The only SKC II player to appear in every match, Rosa has started 22 of 23 matches, for 1848 minutes, telling two goals and three assists. He has been joined on the back four by numerous players, including Academy left back Nati Clarke and centerback Nassim Mekideche. Clarke has two assists in 15 starts while Mekideche has two goals and an assist in 18 appearances.
The Sporting KC II midfield has had an offensive resurgence at the tail end of the year. The formidable two-pronged attack of Josh Coan and Ethan Bryant has been peppering opposing defenses lately. Captain Coan has five goals and four assists in 2023. Bryant has five goals and three assists including the match-winning assist in SKC II's last victory over MNUFC2 on Saturday, Aug. 19.
On the receiving end of that assist was forward and MLS NEXT Pro Player of Matchday 22 Alenis Vargas. The 19-year-old Honduran has been a renaissance for SKC II with the team's leading goalscorer, Vidal, sidelined with an injury for the past two matches. Vargas has six goals and a team-best five assists, playing both out wide and at the nine.
Vidal and forward Sebastian Cruz, --who has bagged four goals and two assists for himself-- are off the injury list and are available for selection on Friday.
Austin enters the contest coming off a shootout defeat at Whitecaps II last Sunday. After conceding in the 87th, they slipped to a 4-3 defeat in kicks from the spot for their fourth shootout defeat of 2023.
The Black and Verde second team is led by Brett Uttley in the team's first year of existence. A decent attacking side, they have 35 goals scored, putting them in the middle third in MLS NEXT Pro. Their 14 goal concessions are the least in the league, 12 fewer than any other team.
Valentin Noel and Sebastian Pineau pace the team in goals scored with six a piece. Goalkeeper Damian Las has been their steady hand in goal, starting every match, making 60 saves and stopping two penalty attempts.
Sporting KC II's match against Austin brings a close to a busy August in which the team earned back-to-back wins after suffering consecutive defeats for just the second time this season. Following Friday's fight, they will enter the final month of the campaign with four matches to play and the playoffs on the horizon.
MLS NEXT Pro: Match 24
Date: Friday, August 25, 2023
Kickoff: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: Parmer Field at St. David's Performance Center
Watch: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Match-specific hashtag: #ATXvSKC